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When Sinners Say ” I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel in Marriage by Dave Harvey

August 1, 2007

To be honest, I have not read a large amount of books on marriage, though I own and have read my share.  My wife and I have received books on marriage through gifts, through conferences we attended, through the undergraduate class I took Marriage and Family, etc.  Through these avenues we have gained a small collection.  So then, in reviewing When Sinners Say “I Do” I am establishing that I have a limited knowledge on the vast amounts of material on marriage available and can in no way compare this book to the mounds (and accumulating) nuptial literature, both Christian and secular.  But, I will say that this is the most gospel-driven (centered, motivated – whatever adjective you would like to use) book on relationships being it marriage, parenting, community, or whatever I have read.  The author Dave Harvey starts with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and ends with it.  The gospel Harvey presents is not ‘using these proverbial principles your marriage will succeed in meeting each other’s needs’ or ‘you can find fulfillment in each other.’  The message is through the power of the gospel of Jesus you can show mercy to, forgive and love your spouse despite their sin, bitterness, neglect, or even adultery. 

Harvey spends the first three chapters making sure we understand some basic theological principles for marriage: (1) The Bible is the Foundation of Your Marriage, (2) The Gospel is the Fountain of Your Marriage, and (3) The Glory of God is the Focus of Your Marriage.    Harvey fills his pages with truths and illustrations that spotlight the grossness of our sin and magnify our great need for Jesus.  Understanding the grossness of sin puts both spouses at the same place: sinners before a holy God in need of grace.  We are all the “greatest of sinners” because all of our sin has offended and snubbed God.  And when we see how great our need is for grace, then Jesus as Savior becomes beautiful and grace (the unimaginable) becomes realized.  Harvey argues that until we understand the gospel and it pours out of our hearts and into our lives marriage will not be sweet.  Chapter 3 primarily deals the with power and craftiness of sin and how it fogs our view of what is truly sin in marriage.  As Harvey puts it, “[Sin] is the fiercest and only true enemy of our marriage.  We must know this enemy well.”    And if we know sin well, we know the gospel well.  And if we know the gospel well, we know mercy and forgiveness.

In my judgment, chapters 6 and 7 are the climax of the whole book.  In these chapters Harvey applies the Gospel specifically to showing mercy and forgiveness in marriage.  Chapter 6 displays the triumph of mercy in marriage.  Throughout the chapter, however, I constantly have to check my own motives – asking the question ‘Do I show mercy in order to change my spouse, or do I show mercy in response to the mercy I have been shown in the gospel? ‘.  There is no promise of change attached to mercy, only the reward of an ever-increasing loving relationship with the Father in heaven – the satisfier of all of our needs.  Other fruits grow from mercy – kindness and humility.  Increasingly, Harvey shows us that to show mercy and grow in kindness and humility we must rely heavily on the power of Christ and the truths of the gospel.

Chapter 7 describes the ministry of forgiveness.  Mercy can be shown without the other spouse being even aware of it, but forgiveness involves both parties.  The entire chapter is an application of the parable in Matthew 18 of the king who forgives one of his servants of 10,000 talents (an unimaginable amount of money to Jesus’ listeners), while that same servant punishes another for the debt of a hundred denarii (a day’s wage).  The wicked servant who was forgiven of his debt but refused to forgive another was thrown to the prison guards to pay his debt.  For Harvey, the application is that “forgiven sinners forgive sin.”  The difficult part of forgiveness is that when we do it, we absorb the cost of that sin.  “You received emotional pain over what he/she did.  Will the pain end with you or will you return it.”  Will you force the other to pay back what is owed or do you release them of any liability.  When we look at our pain caused by another alone isolated it is easy to demand recompense by punishment or returning equal hurt.  But when we see that our 10,000 talent, inconceivable debt to God has been forgiven through the Gospel, we see we are more like our spouse, who has hurt us, than different.  From that standing forgiveness can flow.

With the mindset of mercy and forgiveness, that sets up a very easy table to talk in chapter 8 about sex in the context of I Corinthians 7 – “Do not deprive one another.”  He explains sex in marriage in context of this passage under 3 headings: Sex in Marriage is an Adventure of Devotion, Sex in Marriage is an Adventure of Delight, and Sex in Marriage is an Adventure of Dependence.   These are helpful guides to understanding a godly sexual relationship in many difficult marital situations.

 This is the perfect book to hand the engaged couple you are counseling, encouraging, or friends with.  It gives them the real basis for marriage, or any relationship – the gospel.   This is also a book to hand seasoned veterans who always need reminders of gospel applications to their marriage.  As Paul Tripp says in the forward to this book, “It doesn’t matter whether you are looking forward to your marriage or have been married for several years.  There is one thing I know for sure – your relationship isn’t perfect.  And because it isn’t, as a couple you need to look into the mirror of God’s Word once again.  This book will help you to do just that.”  Sadly, many Christian books on marriage lift up the importance of personal needs and desires met and unmet in marriage to a level that often toes the line of idolatry.  Dave Harvey, however, carefully explains the ministry of mercy and forgiveness in marriage and properly lifts up Christ and his gospel.   I heartily suggest this book and pray that the Lord would soften hearts to receive its true, but often difficult and humbling, message.

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